How to Prepare for a Long Flight

When people say that they love to travel, they don’t actually mean that they love to travel. Exploring far-away places is exciting: the actual act of getting there is not. No matter how adventurous your life seems in a three-second airport Snapchat, actually being confined in a giant metal tube for hours on end is not a glamorous experience. But it is survivable. Here’s how you do it.

Pick your carry-ons wisely.

On most flights, you’re allowed to bring “one carry-on and one personal item.”

The Carry-on: Most people tend to use a roller-bag as a carry-on, which is worth it if you’re able to live out of what you’ve packed in it for the duration of your vacation. But if you’re planning on checking luggage anyway, leave the roller bag at home and bring a sturdy backpack instead. Roller-bags can only be placed in overhead compartments and, on almost every flight I’ve ever been on, they eventually run out of room and have to store them with the rest of the checked luggage. Even if you do manage to get your bag on the plane, getting stuff out of it mid-flight seems like a bit of a nightmare. If you bring a backpack instead, you can access more stuff more easily, right under the seat in front of you.

The Personal Item: The key here is pockets, pockets, pockets, and more pockets. My friends have started to mock my worn LeSportsac purse that I take nearly everywhere with me, but it’s a lifesaver on flights. It’s made of fabric, so it can be easily crammed into any position, and it has two big main compartments and a ton of pockets. I can stick the stuff I need to access to get through the airport (passport, quart sized plastic bag, wallet) easily on one side, a book on the other, and miscellaneous essentials throughout.

Bending the rules: Don’t be the jerk that takes up extra over-head compartment space, but if you have an extra something and can shove it under the seat in front of you, no one is going to complain.

Know your weaknesses.

I’ve always been prone to headaches and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a deeply unpleasant motion sickness: so I don’t travel without ibuprofen and dramamine. It can be a pain to bring multiple bottles in your bag, but even filling a little Ziploc with double what you think you’ll need can really help.

However, becoming a walking pharmacy doesn’t solve every problem. Even though getting from home to the airport always seems like an uncomfortable rush, try to schedule the time to take care of yourself beforehand: get enough sleep, drink coffee beforehand if you get caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Bring snacks and either buy a bottle of water at the airport or bring an empty one to fill up once you’re there. I know this seems basic, but I fainted in an airport customs line before learning that lesson properly: let’s all learn from eighteen-year-old Kim’s mistakes.

Select your entertainment.

Don’t depend on the airline’s entertainment options: in-flight entertainment is prone to glitches and an airline can change its plane at the last minute, and the available entertainment options change with it. You can’t rely on yourself either: I’ve promised myself all too often that I’d want to get some work done or finish reading a book on a plane, only to find myself uninspired to do so once I’m actually in the air. Give yourself options, as many as possible:

  1. A book or two if you can fit it, definitely of different styles and genres.
  2. Coloring books aren’t just for children anymore: sometimes you can kill hours by just shading within the lines and listening to some really good music. Other arts and crafts can be fun too: crochet or knit something, make a friendship bracelet, make an elaborate monthly set up in your Bullet Journal, learn to do origami…
  3. Actual work: sometimes, you really do feel like being productive on a plane. Bring your laptop and make sure you’ve downloaded what you need, because airplane wifi can be cruel.
  4. Movies: I’ve never actually done this before, but I feel like on my next flight I might suck up the $5 and download a film I’ve been wanting to see.
  5. Podcasts: These are especially good if you’re prone to motion sickness (which can turn reading or watching tv into torture) and also prone to boredom. I like to download enough podcasts to last the duration of my flight, just in case I truly run out of things to do. Again, select several different podcasts, because you might not actually be as interested in the life of Mary Todd Lincoln as you thought you’d be once you’re up in the air.

What to do when there’s nothing left to do.

Sometimes, you prepare your best (or forget to) and there’s still time left to kill. Wait out the rest of your flight by:

  1. Actually reading the in-flight magazine. Spend a good hour trying to figure out and/or making up answers to the crossword puzzle inside.
  2. Listening to a full music album in order.
  3. Going through photos/notes/apps on your phone and delete things that you don’t need anymore. Organize or re-organize the files on your computer.
  4. Practicing meditation.
  5. Sleeping. I finally sucked it up and bought a neck pillow and it changed my life (My preferred method of using it is to lay it on the tray table and face-plant into it. You’re welcome.)

What do you do to keep yourself entertained during flights? Let me know in the comments, because I’m flying to Hawaii on Friday and I’m feeling restless just thinking about it. Also, @Grace on any platform if you want to see a follow-up post on how to survive a plane ride with kids – I’m sure if we bother her enough, we can get her to write it for us.

Bonus content: I made a free pre-flight preparation checklist!!! Download it here!



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image courtesy of omar prestwich.

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